Alarm over councillor's link to quake landfill

  • 09/04/2015

North Canterbury residents are calling for a Waimakariri councillor to choose between his work on a controversial landfill run by a convicted kidnapper and his position as an elected representative.

A 3 News investigation can reveal Peter Farrant, a member of the Waimakariri District Council (WDC), is on the payroll of highly contentious businessman David Clemence.

The Clemence Drilling owner and operator, who has convictions for kidnapping and animal abuse, has employed the councillor in a private capacity to handle a resource consent debacle at an earthquake rubble dump site near Kaiapoi.

The pair have applied for retrospective changes to consent at the Doubledays Rd dump site in response to council abatement notices for overfilling – if successful, the application would effectively legalise several breaches at the site.

Council documents show rubble has been packed above legal limits and into the wrong places at the site, increasing the flood risk for surrounding properties and creating dust problems.

Mr Farrant, an accomplished engineer, has been working on the project privately and strongly denies claims he is using his authority at the council to unduly influence staff.

But neighbours are outraged; they say the "cowboy" landfill has destroyed their equity, quality of living and happiness.

They are also accusing Mr Farrant of a conflict of interest, as he sits on a council committee which gives Mr Clemence large well-drilling contracts, including jobs worth $192,000 and $220,000 last year.

Landfill neighbour Bernadette Williams is abandoning her retirement dream and packing for a new life in Australia following a long struggle against Clemence.

Ms Williams, 56, spent seven years looking for the rural hideaway, which once faced onto a line of willow trees and a swampy wetland which housed pukeko, quail and heron. She now looks out on giant pile of earthquake rubble.

Mr Farrant personally chaired a meeting of the utilities and roading committee in November during which the two large jobs were awarded. He claims to have stepped away from the vote, but the minutes show there was no official declaration of conflict of interest.

The councillor has since stepped down as chair of the committee, saying he "can't do both" jobs – but remains a member.

He describes his employer as an "amazing man" with a "heart of gold", ignoring his violent history and offering excuses for Mr Clemence's breaches of the law.

A landfill, breaches and despair

Ms Williams moved into her "getaway" near Kaiapoi in 2001 with her partner Graeme Campion, 57, after a seven-year search for a rural property.

"We'd planned to be here for the rest of our days. It was great, we had lots of plans to do things here," she told 3 News. 

"It was a little hideaway and most people that come in here say they never knew this place existed, they never knew there was a house here."

The outlook changed in 2011 when the council granted resource consent to a venture on empty land in front of her property, allowing backfilling of demolition material.

The company, Clemence Drilling, later ripped out a shelterbelt to reveal a view of a large pile of earthquake rubble, and began dumping cleanfill just 50 metres from her front door.

Ms Williams, who also faced a lengthy insurance battle over earthquake damage to her home, says she was happy with the original consent but repeated breaches forced her to complain.

"We're going to be underwater because of what he's done – he's gone so far over-height and breached his conditions," she says.

"After the earthquake we had planned on rebuilding, we were going to rebuild, but when he started a landfill in front of us it was, 'What's the point?' I mean, we've got no equity left."

Two abatement notices have been served on the property in recent months due to overfilling and the council is now preparing for a joint resource consent hearing with Environment Canterbury.

Ms Williams says she has struggled to get information from the council and can't believe Clemence Drilling is enjoying the help of an elected councillor.

"I don't know how [Mr Farrant's] stayed there for so long and worked alongside Mr Clemence knowing full-well that he is a cowboy," she says.

"The conflict of interest is far too great, and how can he know what's going on with Clemence's breaches and his abatement and truly represent the rest of the ratepayers and the district?"

Neighbour Tracy Unger is concerned the company is accessing "inside information" through the councillor and is calling on Mr Farrant to resign from one of his two jobs.

Her Doubledays Rd home has been affected by dust brought on by the oversized pile.

"He's been there over 18 months, he's writing the reports and I don't know how he can look himself in the mirror," she says.

"He's aligned himself with somebody who is my eyes an undesirable, untrustworthy character, and why didn't he blow the whistle to begin with?"

Mr Farrant confirmed to 3 News he is on the company's payroll as a part-time engineering consultant, but denies allegations of corruption.

He admits the neighbours have experienced a "hell of a lot of discomfort", but claims to be working behind the scenes to try and slow the company down.

"I agree they're in an awful position. I wouldn't want to be in their position, that's for sure, and they have every right to complain.

"And Dave, I've spoken with him on many occasions to say 'just tie back, just ease back' and he'll say, 'No, no this is my operation. Don't tell me what to do, you just look after the paperwork.'"

The councillor also blamed Environment Canterbury for lengthy delays, saying the regional council put a "young, inexperienced person" on the job and dragged out attempts to alter consent.

Mr Clemence declined an interview, but in a statement blamed neighbours for delays.

"They have made the process a lot messier and have extended it by repeating these complaints time after time," he says.

"It seems more like muckraking by the complainants to start making public accusations about me, my staff and the business."

A meeting and a conflict of interest

Mr Farrant chaired the November 11 meeting of the Waimakariri District Council's utilities and roading committee, where Clemence Drilling was awarded two large well-drilling contracts, worth $192,000 and $220,000. The deal came following a staff recommendation to avoid a tender process.

The meeting agenda makes reference to a "professional relationship" between Clemence Drilling and the council where they are given "preferential treatment" and "very competitive rates".

Mr Farrant claims to have taken a backseat during the meeting, but minutes show he continued in his role as chair and engaged in discussion around one of the jobs.

Mr Farrant blames the secretary for failing to note the potential conflict of interest, but fellow councillor John Meyer confirmed a "reminder" had been issued.

"Whether I vote or not [the recommendations] generally go through because I gather this relationship has been there for many many years, well before I became involved," says Farrant.

"I'm certainly not comfortable with it and that's why I relinquished the chair position [for 2015] while I'm working with Dave Clemence – I can't do both."

The councillor remains a general member of the utilities and roading committee.

Waimakariri mayor David Ayers has stayed out of the conflict, saying councillors have their "own lives to lead" and the council was free of corruption.

He would not say whether he planned to talk to Mr Farrant about the connection.

"It's for the councillor to declare the conflict of interest at the times which are appropriate," he said.
"It's his private business who he works for. I'm not going to publicly comment [on the appropriateness of it], absolutely no comment on that at all, that's not fair."

Council CEO Jim Palmer said it would be inappropriate for the council to step in over the matter.

"It's accepted practice that it is the responsibility of the councillor to identify any conflict of interest and draw that to the council's attention. There's quite clear case law."

Mr Farrant admits he is considering stepping away from the landfill venture, but plans to continue to do EQC and council jobs for Clemence Drilling.

"It may very well be that it's wise for me to step right clear of the landfilling exercise," he says.

"I don't think [I supported Mr Clemence] because he was my friend, it's just that it needed to be done and I thought I could probably influence the job and make sure it was done properly.

"It just didn't pan out that way. We expected to have these consents in place well over a year ago."

A joint council and Environment Canterbury hearing over the landfill is likely to be held in May.

3 News

source: newshub archive